Back to the fu­ture

NDP Leader Joe Byrne analy­ses hous­ing cri­sis his­tor­i­cal roots and reme­dies for the fu­ture

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL - BY JOE BYRNE Joe Byrne is pro­vin­cial leader, P.E.I. NDP

You know what’s good about the hous­ing cri­sis? We’ve all wo­ken up to the fact that we have one. Even the banks. An RBC re­port this Septem­ber de­clared that Cana­dian hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity was at its worst level in nearly 30 years. All of us are con­cerned now, and we have come to re­al­ize that no one sec­tor is go­ing to solve the chal­lenges. It will take us all - gov­ern­ments at mu­nic­i­pal and band, pro­vin­cial and fed­eral lev­els, pri­vate de­vel­op­ers and land­lords, com­mu­nity and tenant or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Re­gret­tably, there has been a ten­dency to lay blame on some par­tic­u­lar fac­tor - on im­mi­gra­tion, Airbnbs, a job boom.

But the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is not some re­cent phe­nom­e­non. The truth is that we have hous­ing short­ages be­cause for more than two decades both fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments chose not to in­vest in hous­ing; they quit back­ing pro­vin­cial, mu­nic­i­pal and other com­mu­nity ef­forts to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion. We are now liv­ing with the con­se­quences of that poor pol­icy de­ci­sion.

There is a path for­ward to ad­dress the need. What’s wanted is an over-arch­ing strat­egy, one that has years-long vi­sion for all as­pects of hous­ing - build­ing, own­ing, man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing. The core of that strat­egy lies chiefly in pub­lic, not-for-profit re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide for the fu­ture.

The path for­ward ac­tu­ally uses the les­sons of the past. We need to get back to us­ing the re­sources of all par­ties, not just the com­mer­cial, as gov­ern­ment has done for 20 years, re­ly­ing solely on pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to sup­ply the mar­ket. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment be­came the big­gest land­lord in the prov­ince, but it did not get past pro­vid­ing pub­lic hous­ing for se­niors and cer­tain fam­i­lies.

It left it to pri­vate builders and man­agers to serve ev­ery­one else, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket forces. Ex­cept for some se­niors’ units, P.E.I.’s gov­ern­ment has not built pub­lic hous­ing since the early 1990s.

So, what’s the NDP con­cept of good hous­ing? It’s the idea of gen­uine neigh­bour­hood: a healthy, in­clu­sive mix of gen­er­a­tions and house­hold com­po­si­tion, with op­tions that fit a broad range of bud­get, and suit peo­ple with dif­fer­ent needs.

It has pub­lic tran­sit. It’s close to stores and ser­vices, and friendly to walk­ers, cy­clists, wheel­chair or scooter users. Its build­ings in­cor­po­rate the best tech­nol­ogy to re­duce car­bon foot­print. There’s green space, and there’s park­land close by.

New Democrats be­lieve in a chiefly pub­lic strat­egy, with these as the main prongs:

- The re­spon­si­bil­ity of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to lead, and to ac­tu­ally build and man­age a num­ber of af­ford­able homes for a va­ri­ety of clien­tele;

- part­ner­ing with the fed­eral re­sources of CMHC;

- back­ing (money, ex­per­tise, fa­cil­i­ta­tion), for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and also non-profit com­mu­nity groups (co-ops, Habi­tat, CMHA, and labour groups), to con­struct and op­er­ate hous­ings;

- con­tin­ued en­cour­age­ment for pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to con­struct hous­ing of var­i­ous kinds, us­ing re­sults-re­lated in­cen­tives such as tax ad­van­tage, to in­clude types and in­come-lev­els;

- elected res­i­dent boards for on­the-scene man­age­ment of pub­lic hous­ing;

- a pro­vin­cial land bank to ac­quire and pro­tect land to be used for af­ford­able hous­ing;

- us­ing statu­tory reg­u­la­tion to set rules about qual­ity of con­struc­tion and up­keep in­spec­tion, about quo­tas for af­ford­able units, about con­di­tions for short-term rentals, and about tenant rights and other mat­ters un­der the Rental of Res­i­den­tial Prop­erty law.

Can we af­ford it? The sim­ple an­swer is that so­ci­ety can, and has to. How could we not use our col­lec­tive wealth to pro­vide what is es­sen­tial to health and qual­i­tyof-life for all our cit­i­zens? To boost the rev­enue from cur­rent tax­a­tion, we can ap­ply a room tax and/or a por­tion of HST to short-term rentals, and use the com­mer­cial rate of tax for any op­er­a­tion which gets used for that pur­pose.

A pro­gram for in­vestors, in­clud­ing im­mi­grant in­vestors, to put their money into 5-year af­ford­able-hous­ing bonds with a mod­er­ate yield of in­ter­est.

With its his­tory of so­cial-jus­tice fair­ness and ac­tivism, and with the be­lief that hous­ing is a hu­man right, the NDP has a clear vi­sion here; and the con­vic­tion that it can be done. It’s time to get go­ing.

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